Tyne & Wear

Rise and rise of Greggs bakery chain

Greggs
Image caption Greggs now has about 1,540 outlets around the UK

The opening of a multi-million pound bakery on Tyneside marks the latest stage in the rise of one of the UK's largest bakery chains.

More than 70 years after John Gregg began delivering yeast, eggs and confectionary on his bicycle to homes around Newcastle, the firm his family founded has become a household name.

The first of what are now more than 1,540 stores was a modest outlet on Gosforth High Street, with a shop at the front and a bakery at the rear.

Two years later it reported an "impressive" profit of almost £70, and when Ian Gregg took over on his father's death in 1964 it employed 15 people and made an annual turnover of £70,000.

By the time the company was floated on the stock market in 1984 it had expanded into Scotland, the North West, the Midlands, Wales, and North London, and had 261 stores.

'Dangerous addiction'

Other notable years included 1994, when it took over the 424 shops of the nationwide Bakers Oven chain, and 1998, when it broke through the 1,000-store barrier, announcing a turnover of £291m.

Recent financial results indicate that Greggs is surviving the economic downturn.

Image caption The company opened its first store in Gosforth

Chief executive, Ken McMeikan, put the company's success down to the fact that it had never lost sight of its values since it started as a small family bakery, and to the "tremendous value" of its food.

The opening on Wednesday of a £16.5m bakery in Gosforth - which replaces the original facility opened in 1968 - means the company now has ten region-based factories around the UK, supplying its shops.

Serving about six million customers a week, Greggs is both a bakery and a food outlet with sausage rolls its biggest seller, and more than two million passing over the counter every week.

Coffee puff campaign

Its pasties have attracted some high-profile fans.

Newcastle-born film director, Paul Anderson, once revealed that his wife, Hollywood actress Milla Jovovich, had developed a "dangerous addiction" to Greggs cheese and onion, and corned beef pasties, after he introduced her to the delicacy during a visit to the North East.

Image caption Paul Anderson described his wife, Milla Jovovich, as "dangerously addicted" to Greggs pasties

The chain takes account of local variations, with sandwiches such as ham and pease pudding stottie in the North East.

There are also regional specialities. Production of one of these, the coffee puff - a choux bun topped with flavoured icing - was axed but later reinstated following a Facebook campaign and intervention by the Conservative MP for Carlisle, John Stevenson.

Greggs recently announced plans to open outlets in motorway service areas.

Ken McMeikan, Greggs chief executive, said: "There have been enormous changes in the bakery industry since we opened our first regional bakery.

"Alongside the significant advancement in new technologies, what has remained is the knowledge and expertise of our master bakers, many of whom have worked at Greggs for 20 to 40 years, and their passion for fantastic bakery food is what helps drive our success."

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